Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A new 'golden age' (II)

Last time, I had discussed Prince 'Not so' Valiant. That didn't go over so well, so this time I'll discuss Popeye.

Popeye was created by cartoonist Elsie Crisler Segar and started as a bit character in the comic strip Thimble Theater in mid-January 1929. He was originally intended to be a briefly-important walk-on character, mostly amusing due to his deformed features. (First appearance shown here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Popeyfirst.png )

What he did was take over the whole series by 1930. And in 1931, Segar created his next best character, J. Wellington Wimpy, who was well-spoken and polite yet shamelessly sponged off anyone for food. (I think everyone knows someone like this in their life.) Here's a particularly fine (and gruesome example): http://www.math.pitt.edu/~bard/bardware/popeye/popeye10c.gif

During the 1930s, Thimble Theater became one of the finest newspaper comics due to its potent blend of bizarre characters, sharp writing, zany humor, quirky artwork, and often suspenseful plot threads. I can't think of any comic strip that has been like that, before or since. And I know enough about comics, so just take my word for it... And in addition to that, on Sundays, Segar wrote and drew a smaller companion strip to Popeye titled 'Sappo'. It was about a short guy with a fat wife who later acquired a mad scientist as a tenant. Here's a sample of that here: http://www.bullworks.net/daily/1933sappolg.jpg

Popeye's creator, E.C. Segar, died an early death in late 1938 of a liver disease. As such, his work didn't really have the chance to go into a period of decline, or 'jump the shark' as almost every other comic strip has. The Popeye comic strip eventually did decline years after Segar's death and still continues today under the mediocre hand of Hy Eisman (as you can see here: http://joshreads.com/images/0606/i060604popeye.jpg )

Fortunately, the best years of this comic have been preserved and resurrected. In late 2006, Fantagraphics published the first of a six-volume series that covers the complete run of Popeye as written and drawn by Segar. I've seen the first 3 volumes at Joseph Beth Bookstore. Check it out if any of you happen to drop by there. (... That's what I thought I heard...crickets. No really, I hear crickets chirping outside my office window...)

Popeye is better known for his cartoons, which can be acquired as public-domain released DVDs that one can pick up at almost any drugstore. But I'm not here to talk about cartoons. I'm here to talk about comic strips. There is a VAST difference...

And as far as I know, Popeye is not affiliated with Popeye's Chicken restaurant chain.


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